My grandparents were hosting their annual Thanksgiving Dinner, and I wanted to bring an offering for the table that meant something, that connected me to these people and that place. I decided to bring bread pudding.
Bread pudding isn’t traditionally served for celebrations. In fact, as my family tells it, bread pudding is more of a “poor man’s” dessert. Both my parents have related stories from their childhood of their moms breaking up stale bread in bite-sized pieces to bake with milk, egg and cinnamon so nothing would be wasted. If times weren’t too hard, raisins were added, and cream was poured over the top. Although it was associated with needier days, to me bread pudding seemed linked to gratitude.
I set about searching for a recipe. Since it was to be a holiday treat, I didn’t envision using the two-week-old bread from my fridge. Instead, I found a gourmet recipe that called for challah, whole milk, and fresh nutmeg.
I cubed the bread Wednesday evening, imagining the beginning of a new tradition for my otherwise nontraditional family. On Thanksgiving morning, I mixed, poured, and baked, with the sounds of the Macy’s Parade echoing from the living room. I was relieved as I pulled the pudding from the oven, the perfectly browned chunks of bread nestled evenly in the custard base.
I arrived at my grandparents’ home a couple of hours later proudly carrying my bread pudding. Some of my cousins were curious, kind of peeking and poking at the pan, but when I told them it was bread pudding, they backed away.
After the turkey and stuffing and yams were served and eaten, the dinner plates were cleared and the desserts set out. I couldn’t wait to hear the older generation’s response to my dessert, memories of the poorer, bread-pudding days unlocked with each bite.
The little dessert plates emerged from the kitchen with generous slices of pumpkin pie and my mom’s chocolaty, nutty dessert called “Better-than-Robert-Redford.” But as I looked around the living room, I didn’t see even a spoonful of bread pudding on anyone’s plates. Except for mine.
Eventually my mom took a pity piece, just so I wouldn’t be the only one eating it. “Ummm, it’s good,” she said. I nodded and finished my pudding, chasing it down with a piece of Mom’s “Robert Redford.”
As the afternoon wore on, I left my grandparents’ house and headed to my dad’s for the evening. Since there was plenty of bread pudding left, I brought it along. Surely my dad would have some. And my younger siblings could try the bread pudding and discover a new favorite, I thought optimistically.
To my chagrin, Dad was too full from dinner for more than a bite of the pudding. My sisters each took a forkful, but the look on their faces said it all. Let's just say they much preferred Dad’s apple pie.
I dipped up another serving for myself, even though I wasn’t hungry.
I headed for home that day with a nearly full pan of bread pudding. I served myself a piece for breakfast the next morning. Over the weekend, I ate another piece or two, but there was no way I could finish the whole pan by myself.
By Sunday evening, I took one last look at the bread pudding, now dry on the edges and starting to look a little gray, and tossed what was left of it into the garbage.